Concert Photography: Photo Pit Etiquette 101

Here's a photo of my friend Josiah Van Dien, who has excellent photo pit etiquette. You can see his fine form here photographing Shawn Mendes at Jingle Ball at The Garden in NYC, December 2018.

The photo pit can be a crowded place, from narrow pits in clubs to full festival pits where there may be dozens of photographers jockeying for limited space and angles. A little courtesy goes a long way, and understanding the proper etiquette will make shooting concerts as a music photographer just that much smoother.

With limited time and all the other restrictions in place for concert photography, put this etiquette to good use and make the pit a friendlier place for everyone.

This advice goes out to all photographers, because we could all use a refresh, but especially to all the new music photographers who are just starting out. Use this etiquette to operate like a pro in the photo pit. 

NIN, Leeds Festival 2013. Now UK festivals know how to make a nice, roomy photo pit — without an excessive number of photographers credentialed.

Photo Pit Etiquette for All Music Photographers

1. Respect Above All Else

The number one rule in the photo pit is respect. All your actions in the pit should come from a place of respect. Respect for your fellow photographers, respect for the artists on stage, respect for the fans, and respect for everyone working the event. There are no exceptions.

2. Mind Your Gear

Be mindful of your cameras and your gear in general. The photo pit is a rough place. Expect that your gear is going to get bumped and banged around. Accidents happen — if you bang into someone and their gear, apologize and move on. To minimize issues, keep your camera straps short, and if you're shooting with two bodies, be mindful that your second body and lens are as kept closer to your body. By the same token, if you're moving through the photo pit, carry your cameras close to your body to minimize collisions.

3. Use the Courtesy Tap

A little courtesy goes a long way. If you need to move past someone in the pit, just tap them on the shoulder so they have an opportunity to let you by, rather than just barreling past them. This little tip can make the photo pit a much more civilized place, and everyone shooting around you will appreciate you being conscientious of your space and theirs.

4. Stash Your Backpack

Here's a big one. If you're shooting in a crowded photo pit, you should not be wearing a photo backpack. If you do, I can guarantee that everyone else in the pit is extremely displeased (read: they hate you). Pits can be extremely crowded as it is, and if you're wearing a backpack, it's more difficult for everyone to move around, including yourself. Stash your backpack at the back of the pit or under the steps of the barricade. Off to the sides is even better. Do not put your pack against the stage, where it has a higher chance of being in someone's way.

If you need to carry and change lenses while shooting, consider a belt and lens pouches, or at least a messenger-style bag that you can wear on your side or front to minimize your footprint in the photo pit.

5. If you're Not Shooting, Move to the Back or Side

This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you're wearing a photo pass, there's a basic understanding that you're working while you're in the pit. However, if the spirit moves you to dance or you just want to take in a song by your favorite artist, just move to the back of the pit or better yet the side.

6. Move With Purpose

If you have to move in a tight photo pit, do so conscientiously. We all have to follow the action, but be mindful of your fellow photographers — try and pass behind them instead of in front, and duck down to avoid getting in someone's shot if you do have to move in front of them.

7. Hail Marys/Overhead Shots

If you must do a hail mary and shoot with your camera, please, please try and do this at the back of the photo pit. We get it: stages can be high, especially at festivals. But if your MO as a photographer is to shoot with your camera overhead, your fellow photographers will sincerely appreciate it if you do this from the back of the photo pit. Otherwise, it's just one more challenge you're creating for everyone else behind you.

8. Flashes Off

An off-camera flash has no place in a photo pit. First, there's the whole “first three, no flash” thing. Even if you're not using the flash and simply have it mounted, you're likely to get hassled by security, but more than that, you're creating another obstacle for your fellow photographers to shoot around. Please stow your flash if you can when you're in the photo pit!

9. When in Doubt, Wear Black

This tip is more as a courtesy to the artists and fans: wear black. Photographers are in a very privileged position at the front of the stage — we're often the closest people to the artists and very literally in between the artist and their fans. Wearing black helps minimize our impact and distraction to everyone else. Wearing black is just part of having a professional appearance as a music photographer.

10. Respect Security

We've touched on respect, but respecting security and venue/event staff is a massive point of photo pit etiquette that bears further articulation. Security at shows are looking out for the safety of the artist and the fans, but they're also looking out for you and your best interests. It's truly in everyone's best interests to show security and everyone working a show the utmost respect. If you're new to a venue, take the time to introduce yourself to the security there, and you shoot there frequently, make it a point to get to know security. Whether it's saving you from a crowdsurfer or maybe letting you get that last shot before exiting the photo pit when time is up, you want security on your side.

Note: It should go without saying, but whatever security says, goes. Security can eject you from the photo pit at any time if there is just cause for safety or there's a change in policy for a specific artist that wasn't previously communicated. If security genuinely messes up and say, miscounts the songs, discuss with the head of security in a polite and respectful manner — anything less and you're going to get bounced.

11. Respect Your Fellow Photographers

Finally, respect your fellow photographers in the photo pit. Everyone wearing a photo pass has the same right to the pit and their shot, period. Even that person filming with their phone and dancing, probably. But in all seriousness, we are all in this together. Respect for one another should be at the front of everyone's mind. We all want our shot. Enter the photo pit with respect on your mind and everyone has a better chance of making the best images without the drama.

Summary

If I had to sum up photo pit etiquette in a word, it's easy: respect. Get your shot, but don't be a jerk about it. We're all after the same thing, we're all working.

If I can leave you with one parting thought, it's this: while a lot of this advice may seem like common sense, we can all do with a reminder. If you see someone doing something that's affecting everyone in the pit, consider informing them of how their behavior is affecting everyone instead of just fuming about it. We all have a chance to do better. We're all in this together.

Do you have any suggestions or rules you try to follow? Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts on concert photography etiquette.

My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon D850:
I use two Nikon D850 for my live music photography. A true do-it-all DSLR with amazing AF, fast response, and no shortage of resolution.
nikon-24-70mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 24-70mm f/2.8:
For most gigs, the 24-70mm is my go-to lens. Exceptional image quality at wide apertures and super-functional range.
Nikon-70-200-squareNikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR:
A perfect pair to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I can basically shoot any job with the midrange and this lens. Superb image quality.
nikon-14-24mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 14-24mm f/2.8:
Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal, where it excels.
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